Transportation in Developing Countries: Greenhouse Gas Scenarios for Shanghai, China

The transportation sector is a leading source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions worldwide, and one of the most difficult to control. In developing countries, where vehicle ownership rates are considerably below the OECD average, transport sector emissions are poised to soar as income levels rise. This is especially true for China, whose imminent accession to the World Trade Organization will contribute to economic growth and could make consumer credit widely available for the first time. These factors are likely to accelerate automobile purchases, and GHG emissions.

Shanghai is one of China’s most dynamic cities. Extremely densely populated, with very low personal vehicle ownership rates for its income level, Shanghai is also home to a nascent Chinese automotive industry. Transportation plans and policies there are designed to achieve broader urban objectives of population decentralization, with an eye to controlling increases in traffic congestion and improving environmental quality. Because Shanghai’s transportation system and planning process are so sophisticated, Shanghai may be a ‘best case’ for controlling transportation sector GHG emissions in the absence of climate change mitigation goals.

This report creates two scenarios of GHG emissions from Shanghais transportation sector in 2020. It finds:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions quadruple in the low-GHG scenario; they increase sevenfold in the high scenario. On a passenger-kilometer basis, the estimated increase ranges from 10 to 100 percent.
  • Providing an array of high-quality options to travelers can help meet the demand for transportation services while keeping traffic congestion in check and meeting other urban objectives.
  • Special lanes and other infrastructure to accommodate vehicles such as buses, minicars, and bicycles can save money and improve traffic circulation.
  • Using clean technology and fuels in motorized vehicles lowers the environmental impact of various transportation modes.
  • Perfecting the use of ‘intelligent’ traffic control systems through improved coordination will yield higher returns on capital investments.

Transportation in Developing Countries: Greenhouse Gas Scenarios for Shanghai, China is the second report in a series examining transportation sector GHG emissions in developing countries. The report’s findings are based on a Lifecycle Energy Use and Emissions Model developed by the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California at Davis, which estimates GHG emissions from the transportation sector.

The Pew Center would like to thank Kebin He of Tsinghua University, Feng An of Argonne National Laboratory, Ralph Gakenheimer of MIT, and Michael Walsh, an independent transportation consultant, for their review of earlier drafts.

Executive Summary

Shanghai is experiencing rapid economic growth. Affluence is motivating dramatic and far-ranging changes in urban structure, transportation, and energy use. This report examines two transportation trajectories that Shanghai might follow and how they would affect greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Shanghai’s metropolitan population of over 13 million people continues to grow relatively slowly, but its economy is growing rapidly. The average annual per capita income is $4,000, three times higher than the rest of China, and the Shanghai economy is expected to grow at more than 7 percent per year through 2020.

Massive new transport system investments planned for the next two decades are aimed at lowering Shanghai’s extremely high population density, supporting economic growth, and enhancing the quality of life. The list of new investments is impressive: expansion of the new airport, construction of a deep-water harbor, three new bridges and tunnel river crossings, completion of a 200-kilometer modern rapid transit rail system, expansion of suburban highways, and construction of 2,000 kilometers of new and upgraded urban roads. These investments will improve the city’s transportation system, but are costly and threaten greater energy use and air pollution.

A central issue in Shanghai’s development is the role of personal vehicles, especially cars. The city currently devotes little land to roads and has only 650,000 cars and trucks — very few of which are privately owned — placing vehicle ownership levels well below virtually all cities of similar income. Even with this small number of vehicles, Shanghai already suffers from serious transport-induced air pollution and traffic congestion.

Shanghai city planners project a quadrupling of cars and trucks in the city by 2020. This projected increase is premised principally on two factors. First is rapid income growth, which will make car ownership possible for a much larger segment of the population. And second is vehicle prices, which are likely to plummet due to China’s imminent accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO). Lower prices will result from increased competition, compulsory reductions in vehicle tariffs, and easier access to consumer credit.

These projected increases in vehicle use are not certain.  Even apart from the WTO membership, vehicle ownership and use–and GHG emissions–will be strongly influenced by three interrelated policy debates: industrial policy toward the automotive industry, air quality policy, and transportation and urban growth policy.

The city’s decision about vehicle use will be critical in shaping Taiwan’s future.
This report addresses the forces about to transform the transportation system of Shanghai, and examines policies and strategies that that direct it toward greater economic, social and environmental sustainability.

The two transportation scenarios draw upon extensive interviews with decision-makers and experts in Shanghai and Beijing.  One scenario is premised on rapid motorization, the other on dramatic interventions to restrain car use and energy consumption, resulting in lower GHG emissions.  Neither is the “business-as-usual” scenario, since this characterization is meaningless in a time of massive investments and policy shifts.  Instead, these scenarios are meant to estimate likely upper and lower bounds of greenhouse gas emissions from Shanghai transport in 2020, taking as given the projected strong economic growth.  If the economy grows more slowly, emissions will likely be lower than the scenarios indicate.

The rapid motorization scenario is based on the projected quadrupling of cars by 2020, coupled with a substantial increase in population.  It results in a seven-fold increase in GHG emissions.  The restrained scenario results in a four fold increase in GHG emissions.  In this restrained scenario, almost all emissions growth is due to increase in travel, not increases in energy intensity or GHG intensity of the travel.  Emissions per passenger-kilometer increase only about 10 percent the restrained scenario compared to a doubling in the rapid motorization scenario.

Caution is urged in generalizing the findings of this report to other cities in developing nations.  Shanghai is not a typical Asian city, given its surging economy and its world-class planning capabilities.  However, the conditions for alternative transportation options are more propitious here than perhaps any other megacity in the world.  If the city is effective at restraining growth in vehicle use (and GHG emissions), Shanghai may serve as a model for other cities in the developing world.